Beth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist CongregationBeth Chai: The Greater Washington Jewish Humanist Congregation

Shabbat Program Archives

Friday, April 9, 2010
The Letter of the Dietary Laws
Curious about the intent, logic, wisdom, justification--or lack of the above--behind the Jewish dietary laws? Then you'll want to be sure to check out this month's Shabbat dinner and program, set for this Friday, April 9, at RRUUC (6301 River Road, Bethesda; entrance on Whittier). This week's Torah portion contains some of the passages that form the foundation of Kashrut, giving Rabbi Art Blecher the perfect opportunity to lead a discussion of these controversial provisions in Jewish law.

Friday, March 12, 2010
The Edible Torah: Jewish Folk Wisdom Through Food
Michael Twitty returns to speak about a subject that should appeal to everyone along the continuum from the spiritual to the intellectual. Michael will discuss the ways in which Jewish folk cookery contains our people's ethical teachings and folk wisdom in its design. In Jewish recipes, a whole "Torah" of thoughts and musings on Jewish life is hidden--and in Jewish folk wisdom, much is passed on using the medium of culinary vocabulary and references.

Friday, February 19, 2010
Analyzing This Week's Torah Portion
Led by Beth Chai teens Rachel Wallick and Julie Elfin.

Friday, January 22, 2010
Revitalizing Shabbat at Beth Chai
Shabbat was booming at Beth Chai a few years back, but it’s not drawing much of a crowd these days. So we’ve decided to turn our next monthly Shabbat evening into a forum on what kinds of congregational Shabbat observance members would like to see.

Friday, November 22, 2009
Exploring Shabbat Blessings

Friday, October 30, 2009
The Shabbat Songbook

Friday, October 2, 2009
Genesis, God's Primer in Human Relations: Close Encounters With His Own Creatures

Friday, May 15, 2009
Surveying the Legal Landscape On Which Jews’ Ancient Social Institutions Were Constructed
Rabbi Art Blecher will review and lead discussion of some key passages from the weekly Torah portion. This section, from the Book of Leviticus, specifies the laws governing some very interesting ancient social institutions. The Torah’s positions on such issues as land use rights, property ownership, and indentured servitude may be quite surprising to many people.

Friday, April 17, 2009
A Beth Chai Holocaust Commemoration
This month’s Shabbat, which falls several days before Yom HaShoah on April 21, will be devoted to Remembrance of the Holocaust. In hopes of crafting a commemoration that will be of personal meaning to our members, we are asking that as many as possible send in a written passage or passages of significance to them in the context of the Holocaust. The passages should take around five or so minutes to read at the most -- perhaps on the order of a few sentences to a few paragraphs for prose, and from a few lines to a number of stanzas for poetry or song. They may be from works of fiction or non-fiction, and written during the years of Nazi persecution, afterward, or even before; a passage from a Jewish classical text or a reference to another moment in Jewish history would certainly qualify. The main criterion is that each submission be evocative in a way that lends dimension or depth to the understanding of or feelings about the Holocaust for the person who sends it in.

Friday, March 20, 2009
You Don’t Have to Break an Egg to Make an Amulet: The History of Jewish Magic and Sorcery
Although the American rabbinate has always insisted that Judaism is based in reason, the truth is that in the Old World every rabbi was expected to be able to cast spells, exorcise demons, and manufacture charms and amulets. Drawing upon his research into this fascinating – and often censored – part of Jewish civilization, Rabbi Art Blecher will both illustrate and demonstrate Judaism’s “black arts.”

Friday, February 20, 2009
What Makes Jewish Art Jewish?
Jewish art as we know it today – non-ritual objects made for non-ritual purposes – dates no further back than the end of the 17th century. Before that, artwork of a Jewish character was limited to ritual objects: And even these were more than likely produced by non-Jews, since Jews were not normally allowed to be silversmiths or goldsmiths, being excluded from membership in the guilds. Thus, many of the ceremonial objects in Judaica collections, though used by Jewish communities, were made on commission by non-Jewish manufacturers or artisans. It was these objects’ function, not their provenance, that made them specifically Jewish. 
It was only with Jewish emancipation in Europe, which began a little over 200 years ago, that the activity of Jewish artists creating “art for art’s sake” went into full swing. This development has raised a thorny issue, exemplified by such questions as: Is a portrait of a Jew by a Jewish artist more a work of “Jewish art” than the portrait of a non-Jew by a Jewish artist? Beth Chai member Joyce Ellen Weinstein, an award-winning visual artist and student of Jewish art, will lead an illustrated discussion examining this issue.

Friday, January 23, 2009
Loving One’s Neighbor in the Jewish Tradition
The obligation to Love One’s Neighbor as Oneself is a value shared by many traditions. What does the Jewish tradition have to say about this? How important does Jewish tradition consider it to be? What does our tradition mean by “love”? How do we define “neighbor”? What are the obstacles to living by this principle? What would doing so look like? Beth Chai Education Director Rain Zohav will talk about simple first steps in this direction, along with Talmudic commentary on the issue and its contemporary applications. We will also discuss our personal experiences in this area.

Friday, December 12, 2008
Chanukah’s Many Potential Sources, Meanings Explored
Greco-Roman winter solstice celebration or Jewish festival of light? Commemoration of Maccabee military victory or affirmation of Jewish survival? War of independence from foreign oppression or bloody civil strife between Judean factions? Minor children’s holiday or significant affirmation of Jewish identity? Rabbi Art Blecher will discuss the multiple meanings of the Chanukah celebration from both the historical and the spiritual perspectives.

Friday, November 14, 2008
Shabbat Program Clears up Misconceptions about Sodom - in a G-rated Presentation, Yet
Rabbi Art Blecher will lead an exploration of part of the week’s Torah portion—Vayerah. The very interesting chapters from the Book of Genesis comprising Vayerah include the well-known story of the sacrifice of Isaac, which figures so prominently at the High Holidays. But this evening’s discussion—which Rabbi Blecher promises will be appropriate for all ages, so that parents need not worry about their children’s attendance—will focus on the story of Sodom, an episode equally familiar but generally misunderstood. To highlight the hidden mystical elements of this unusual passage from the Bible, Art will draw upon classical Jewish sources.

Friday, October 17, 2008
Supper in the Sukkah, Simchat Torah as Celebration and Protest
This is a first-ever opportunity for Beth Chai members to share a Shabbat meal in a sukkah. We will be building our sukkah this year at River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation (RRUUC) on Sunday, Oct. 12, and leaving it up for the week of Sukkot – which includes this Shabbat. So come sit under the sukkah and enjoy a celebratory Shabbat dinner with the Beth Chai community! We will begin our meal with the blessings over candles, wine, and bread, and then, after dinner, sing a few Shabbat songs in lieu of a formal service. The evening’s program – honoring Simchat Torah, which this year begins at sundown on Oct. 21 – will be centered on the way resistance to the former Soviet Union’s treatment of its Jewish citizens was expressed in the 1960s at Simchat Torah. The program will feature a dramatic reading from Eli Wiesel’s book The Jews of Silence.

Friday, September 19, 2008
Accenting Music, Then Time to Get Acquainted or to Catch Up
Making the fall’s first Shabbat a largely social occasion has been a crowd-pleaser for the past few years, so we’ve decided to continue the tradition in 2008. But we’re also benefiting from the occasion to put some additional emphasis on developing Beth Chai members’ ease with, and pleasure in, singing. Andrea Foster, a trained cantor who debuted exactly a year ago as Beth Chai’s regular Friday-night song leader, has – happily for us – consented to return for another year. On this evening, she will devote some extra time and effort to guiding members through the musical part of the liturgy. She’ll be helping us practice some old favorites and introducing us to some new tunes, all with the goal of building the closeness to tradition and to one another that singing has a unique power to awaken. And, as in past years, a significant part of the evening will be given over to catching up with friends, welcoming newcomers, chatting at long last with somebody one’s never quite managed to get to know – and all in the gentle and relaxed ambience of Shabbat. This allows families with young children to stay longer than usual, fostering acquaintanceships at all age levels. It enables prospective members to meet Rabbi Art Blecher, Education Director Rain Zohav, and others, and to learn about Beth Chai. Look to it as a source of all-around, low-key fun – with after-dinner refreshments provided by the congregation.

Friday, May 2, 2008
Yom HaShoah, Memorial for Ron Leve
This month, Beth Chai’s Shabbat service fell precisely on Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – which is marked on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. The evening also coincided with the congregation’s memorial for Ron Leve, one of Beth Chai’s most active and popular members, whose recent death, both unexpected and untimely, deeply affected his many friends in our area. Our Shabbat service incorporated our acknowledgment of Yom HaShoah; the rest of the evening was devoted to honoring Ron, whose impact on the life of the congregation has been so great and whose presence will be so sorely missed.

Friday, April 4, 2008
Greater Washington’s Jewish Community:
A Portrait from 1795 Through the Present
We’ve looked extensively at the history and culture of Jews who have lived far and wide throughout the world, and in many different eras – but we have somewhat overlooked those who live, and have lived, in our own backyard. Helping us make up for that on this evening was Laura Apelbaum, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington. Laura presented a slide show tracing the history of the Jewish community in our area from the arrival of the first Jewish Washingtonian in 1795 to today, when the region’s Jewish community has grown to more than 215,000 people.

Friday, March 7, 2008.
The Material Culture of Ancient Israel: Visualizing the Scene at the Tabernacle
Beth Chai’s education director and resident rabbinical student, Rain Zohav, conducted a visual and literary tour of Israel’s first sanctuary as she took up the Torah portion for the week, which described the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan) and the sacred attire of the priests.

Friday, January 11, 2008
When Moses Met Pharaoh – Negotiation, Torah-Style
Rabbi Blecher led an exploration of one of the most fascinating passages in the Torah, the famous “Let my people go” confrontation between Moses and Pharaoh. Forever written into the memory of popular American culture as a duel between Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner, this ancient Hebrew story combines elements of sorcery, national destiny, and classical Jewish theology. This Torah portion of the week also touches on some acute current questions about national leadership and the uses of physical force in achieving societal goals.

Friday, December 14, 2007
The Black-Jewish Dialogue: A New, Practical Chapter Flourishes in DC
Operation Understanding DC aims to mold high school juniors who “self-identify as either Black or Jewish (or both)” into “community leaders who promote respect, understanding, and cooperation while working to eradicate racism, anti-Semitism, and all forms of discrimination.” Speakers from among the 300 who have graduated since the program’s inception in 1993 filled us in on its design and impact, recounting some of their personal experiences. 

Friday, November 2, 2007
Early Marriage, Viewed In Torah and Midrash
This month’s Shabbat program offered a traditional view of a subject whose modern manifestations have been the focus of recent Adult Ed sessions: marriage. Led by Rabbi Art Blecher, we looked at the story of the union of Isaac and Rebecca through both its description in the Torah and its discussion in a Midrash or two.

Friday, October 5, 2007
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice.
Since an accomplished song leader, Andrea Foster, will be with us on Shabbat evenings through the entire year, it seemed smart to devote some time and attention at the very outset to polishing up a few old, familiar songs under her guidance and, perhaps, to taking on some new ones. This Shabbat’s program, therefore, was in Andrea’s hands: She stayed on after the service to work with us in an effort to get our enthusiastic yet melodically challenged members singing comfortably and competently enough to take real advantage of what she will have to offer us on a year’s worth of Friday nights. This was a program for young and old, flat and sharp, soprano, alto, baritone, and bass alike.

Friday, September 7, 2007
Service with Music and Art, Then Time to Get Acquainted or to Catch Up
Making the fall’s first Shabbat a largely social occasion has been a crowd-pleaser two years in a row, so we went for a three-peat but added a couple of frills:

  • This month’s Shabbat marked the debut of Andrea Foster as Beth Chai’s regular Friday-night song leader. Andrea, a trained cantor, helped us with our singing in March, and it was such a fine experience that we have invited her to spend an entire year of Shabbats trying to guide our tonally challenged members through the musical part of the liturgy.
  • Rabbi Art Blecher provided a brief Dvar Torah about the weekly Biblical reading, which touches on the significance of reconnecting with the community, to enhance the mood as we reconvene to celebrate Shabbat together after the summer.

But as before, much of the evening was given over to catching up with friends, welcoming newcomers, chatting at long last with somebody one’s never quite managed to get to know – and all in the gentle and relaxed ambience of Shabbat. This allowed families with young children to stay longer than usual, fostering acquaintanceships at all age levels. It enabled prospective members to meet Rabbi Blecher, Education Director Rain Zohav, and others, and to learn about Beth Chai.

Friday, May 18, 2007
Churchill:  The Zionist Who Set Iraq’s Borders
As Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Winston Churchill sat down at a conference table and drew the map of modern Iraq, aiming to create an easy-to-administer property for the British Empire.  But this was hardly the end of the mutual influences of Churchill and the Middle East.  The great statesman’s strong support for a Jewish homeland – “I am, of course, a Zionist,” he once proclaimed – helped shape his views on confronting the Nazi menace in Europe as well as on Jewish immigration to Palestine.  Guiding us through this aspect of Churchill’s unparalleled career will be Beth Chai member Bob Rosenblatt, who is a member of the executive board of the Washington Society for Churchill and has taught courses on Churchill’s life for the Learning in Retirement Institute at George Mason University.

Friday, April 13, 2007
Holocaust Remembrance Day:  Re-examining What We ‘Know’
A wealth of records kept under lock and key for six decades in Bad Arolsen, Germany, may become accessible within the next 12 months, shedding new light on the Holocaust.  A great deal of information is already available, however – and yet, some of what passes for knowledge of the Nazi persecutions and the circumstances surrounding them is incomplete, misleading, or just plain inaccurate.
On the occasion of Beth Chai and River Road Unitarian Church’s annual observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day – Yom HaShoah, which falls this year on April 15 – we will take a careful look at the validity of some widely held assumptions regarding the events and their background, and at some familiar images that emblematize them.  We will also attempt to assess the degree to which popular commemorations of the Holocaust reflect the traditional Jewish value of remembering.  Rabbi Art Blecher will be joined by Beth Chai member Ken Jacobson, author of a book on Holocaust history, in offering some suggestions for discussion.

Friday, March 23, 2007
A Bagel Tasting:  Which is the “Real Mechaiah”?
“Where do bagels come from?”  If your child has asked you, and you’ve found yourself at a loss for words, attending Beth Chai’s March Shabbat program will improve your response to this delicate yet inevitable question.  Most of us know what bagels aren’t – those hockey pucks in the supermarket’s freezer case, for one – but where do you find the archetype?  Is there a source in the DC area?  Does New York’s vaunted H&H set the standard?  How about bagels made in the Vermont woods by a Montreal refugee?  (We kid you not!)?  Come taste, learn. . .and enjoy.
The service preceding this program will be enlivened by the presence of song leader Andrea Foster, a trained cantor active in Jewish education in the Washington area, who will guide our, at times, tonally challenged assembly through the musical parts of the liturgy.

Friday, February 23, 2007
Lithuania’s Wooden Synagogues:  An Artist’s Perspective
Fabulous wooden synagogues, constructed between the 17th and the early 20th century once dotted Europe’s landscape.  Today only 23 remain, eight of them in Lithuania.  Beth Chai member Joyce Ellen Weinstein, an artist and author, has traveled to remote Lithuanian villages to visit these structures and will share the fruits of her research:  photographs of them, original artworks inspired by them, historical documents, and memories imparted by those still living near them.

Friday, January 19, 2007
Timeless Lessons for Recurring Crises
The teachings of the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah on empire, ethics, and political violence are as relevant now as they were in ancient days.  Richard Rubenstein, author of the newly published Thus Saith the Lord:  The Revolutionary Moral Vision of Isaiah and Jeremiah, will discuss the prophets’ new vision of human potential and social organization – their response to living in a world dominated by war-loving great powers.  While sketching his book’s re-creation of Isaiah and Jeremiah as personalities and as thinkers rooted in their times, he will highlight the links between the crises they faced and those confronting us today. Rubenstein is Professor of Conflict Resolution and Public Affairs at George Mson University.

Friday, December 8, 2006
Shabbat Service – The Shtetl in Cyberspace:  A Guide to Using Jewish Resources Online
Want to trace the history of your family in the Old World?  Learn what distinguishes a Chasid from a Misnagid?  See what Jewish groups are doing to fight poverty at home and abroad?  Find the first night of Passover for every year between 2007 and 2020 – or, rather, 5768 and 5781?  Nowadays, you just have to boot up your computer and you’ll be able to access everything from the complete text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia to the information banks and newsletters of Jewish religious sects and social service agencies great and small.  “There’s been a migration of Jewish life to the Internet,” says Rabbi Art Blecher, who will join another experienced cybertraveler, Beth Chai member Byron Hulcher, to present a tour of the resources available and provide tips on navigating the online Jewish world.  

Friday, November 17, 2006
Jewish Social Institutions in the Time of Abraham
Led by Rabbi Art Blecher, we’ll be looking at the week’s Torah portion, which describes two fascinating Middle Eastern practices that are no longer part of Jewish culture in quite the same way:  the bargaining ritual for setting prices on real estate and the customs surrounding the acquisition of a wife.  Any of those wishing to prepare for this presentation are encouraged to read Chapters 23 & 24 of Genesis.

Friday, October 27, 2006
What Makes Klezmer Klezmer?
What distinguishes klezmer as a musical form?  And what about klezmer is distinctly Jewish?  Tackling those questions with the help of one or more of the instruments he plays will be Seth Kibel, who played clarinet in leading the Alexandria Kleztet at Beth Chai’s Purim party earlier this year.  Seth will provide a brief history of this music from its origins in the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe to its heyday in the immigrant community of New York City and on to its current status as part of the broader American musical landscape.  Besides live performance, excerpts from various recordings will highlight points of the talk.

Friday, September 15, 2007
Shabbat Service & Schmoozing
Making the fall’s first Shabbat a purely social occasion seemed a crowd-pleaser last September, so for the second straight year we’re giving the program portion of our Shabbat evening an extra month of vacation.  As before, this occasion will be given over to catching up with friends after the summer break, welcoming newcomers, chatting at long last with somebody one has never quite managed to get to know – and all in the gentle and relaxed ambience of Shabbat.  We will provide refreshments after our customary Shabbat service ends at around 8:30 PM and leave the rest of the evening open for conversation and fellowship.